Photographs & Memories: September 11, 2001 [VIDEO]
Photographs & Memories: September 11, 2001 [VIDEO]
There is something magical about that first, crystalline blue sky that heralds the coming of Fall. You can feel a tangible change in the air, but you’re not quite sure what it is. You only know you’re overwhelmed by the beauty of the day, and the crisp, wondrous feeling of life that surges to the forefront when it dawns. You step a little lighter, look up to feel the sun on your face more, smile broadly at the folks going by without exception. You can taste living. September 11, 2001 was such a glorious day. From New York City to Pensacola, Florida, and Cranbury, New Jersey.
I want to share with you how our family experienced it…and still does. I will use pseudonyms to protect their privacy.
My husband, major dad, was an active duty Marine Corps major at the time, attached to MATSG-21, NAS Pensacola, FL.
Our son, Ebola, was 19 years old, living home while attending college.
My brother, Bingley, is a coffee broker in Manhattan. His office was on Maiden Lane – a couple blocks from the World Trade Center.
My best friend, Kcruella, was working in the Aetna corporate offices in Cranbury, New Jersey. We met in Marine Corps bootcamp in 1980 and had been thick as thieves ever since. She is Ebola’s godmother.
September 11. What a beautiful morning.
In New Jersey, Bingley had had a dear friend from Brazil come into town. Being SO gorgeous, taking the ferry into the city (vice Bingley’s usual train into the station at the base of the Trade Center) was definitely called for. He picked his buddy up at his hotel around 7:30 and they snagged the 7:55 ferry out of Highlands. He said the ride over was GLORIOUS.
We sat on the roof of the ferry, laughing and joking on the cell phone with friends in Brazil as we sped along at 35 knots, the breeze rippling across our clothes. As we neared going under the Verrazano Bridge my friend said “That plane is awfully low.”
And so indeed it was, crossing the mouth of the harbor from west to east at a slow, leisurely pace and turning up the East river. But then we saw another jet follow it a few minutes later and I thought, well, if there were two planes then the controllers must be routing them that way because of the wind. One can rationalize anything, at least then. And yes, I’ve seen all the diagrams and maps of how the various experts say the planes flew that day and none of them mention this, but that’s what I saw.
When Bingley got to the office, he started going through his emails, and he always checked first for one from Sylvia San Pio. A fellow coffee broker working at Carr Futures, Sylvia had married a great guy named John Resta, who also worked at Carr. She was seven months pregnant with their first child. They knew he was going to be a boy, and had already christened him “Dylan.” Bingley was his merciless to his cherished friend.
I would always kid her that she was condemning him to a life of whiskey drinking, and she would laugh and say that at least they’d get some good poetry out of him.
In Pensacola, major dad had already been on base for over an hour. Ebola and I were polishing off the coffee, and getting the dogs fed. He was going to help me wrangle all of them to a vet appointment on base in a of couple hours, so we wanted them fat and happy. He turned on the TV.
Kcruella was at work, doing the corporate insurance thing.
• 8:46 am – Mohammed Atta and the other hijackers aboard American Airlines Flight 11 crash the plane into floors 93-99 of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, killing everyone on board and hundreds inside the building.
There was the Trade Center and we could see smoke coming out of a tower. “What on earth?” It didn’t look like a huge fire, and we could not, for the life of us, figure out how a light plane hit the thing. It was a gorgeous, September 11 day. There was no way to smack into the Trade Center accidentally. Had to be a nutjob offing himself.
I called Bingley at his office.
“Hey! Did you see? WTF is going on?”
“It looks like a ticker-tape parade here! There’s paper in the air everywhere.”
At no time did either of us consider anything other than a horrid accident or, at worst, a selfish suicidal impulse.
Bingley tried to get a call through to Sylvia, but it was busy. That seemed reassuring.
She was in the Carr Futures offices on the 92d floor.
I hung up, fiddled with some dishes. Ebola was still watching the broadcast in the living room, as I came out of the kitchen.
At MATSG-21 headquarters, the senior officers had gathered around the TV in the Commanding Officer’s office. There was a bit of a lag in the morning, and they were all curious what was happening. How could a plane have hit the towers?
And then Ebola yelled, “Oh, my GOD, Mom! Another plane! Another plane just hit the other tower!”
I said, “WHAT?! Oh, dear Lord, no way,” as my son is pointing, “LOOK! LOOK!”
• 9:03 am – Hijackers crash United Airlines Flight 175 into floors 75-85 of the WTC’s South Tower, killing everyone on board and hundreds inside the building
The tiny TV Bingley and his officemates were watching blinked out.
Then the tv signal went blank, and we got word that a second plane had hit the South Tower. One of the oddities of that day is that the huge tv antenna was on the North Tower, but we only lost the signal when the South Tower was hit.
MATSG-21’s CO put his hands on his hips, and addressed the shocked group of Marines in front of him.
“Gentlemen. We are under attack.“
Papers fluttered and danced past Bingley’s windows, while the towers smoked.
The office couldn’t get any lines out, but, in one of the tiny miracles of the day, my cell phone could call in. I told Bingley what the reports were so far, and there was tons, but it was all terrifying and nebulous. Terrorist hijackings, but how many? Where? Who was next? I filled them in on everything we knew at the time and hung up. Then I called Kcruella in Cranbury.
They hadn’t heard a thing about any of it. She said they would head down to the cafeteria to see if they could catch some of the broadcast.
Bingley was trying to figure out how to get out of the city. Everything was shut down. He called his wife to let her know not to worry. Sister Sue had been on the road with music on.
I called my wife in her car and got a hold of her on the Garden State Parkway as she was driving to work. I said “Honey, don’t worry; I’m ok”. I could tell by the tone of her “Uh, ok, I’m glad” reply that she had no ideas what was going on (the KC and the Sunshine Band I heard blaring in the backround was another clue that I picked up upon). “Turn on the radio,” I said, “Planes have crashed into the World Trade Center.”
Ebola and I thought we might as well head to the vet appointment, because we had no idea what the ramifications were going to be for base security when they sorted this out. Off we went.
The office was filled with surprisingly cooperative animals for once, and very tense owners. All eyes were on the grainy office TV.
Eyes suddenly filled with shocked horror at the rumor that they’d hit the Pentagon.
At MATSG-21 HQ: “Holy SHIT! Is it true?! IS IT TRUE?!”
• 9:37 am – Hijackers aboard Flight 77 crash the plane into the western façade of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., killing 59 aboard the plane and 125 military and civilian personnel inside the building.
One of the enlisted Marines watching the ghastliness unfold in New York looked from the screen to major dad.
“Sir, I think it’s going to fall.”
The concept was staggering. Hubs answered,
“I don’t know. They built that thing pretty fucking strong.”
“But look, sir. It looks like it’s tilting.”
The first tower went down.
• 9:59 am – The South Tower of the World Trade Center collapses.
I flew outside to see if I could get a signal through to Bingley. Frantic dialing, over and over again, through the tears. God, God, God, DAMMIT, ANSWER!!!
In his office, he had seconds to act.
And then I heard incredibly high pitched screams of terror from the street. I ran to the open window and looked up the street. I saw people sprinting frantically towards the river, running a desperate race to escape this huge roiling khaki-colored cloud that was bursting down the street between the Federal Reserve Castle and the Chase building. I shouted for everyone in the office to close the windows, and they did so just in time, for immediately the cloud enveloped us in its dark dusty shroud of fear. Where seconds before one could literally have seen for miles one could now not see a foot through a mantle barely illumined by a diffuse gray/green/khaki glow that eliminated all reference points. We were isolated. Alone.
The radio crackled that the South Tower had collapsed. Dear God.
In the Aetna cafeteria in Cranbury, they were calling for EMTs. When the South Tower went down, so did three of the girls watching in the lunchroom. Their husbands worked in the tower.
Miraculously got through to Bingley again. Their building was alright. We shoved the dogs back in the car and hurried home from base.
Again, there were unsubstantiated reports about plane crashes: one we would later learn was an act of ultimate heroism…
• 10:07 am – After passengers and crew members aboard the hijacked Flight 93 contact friends and family and learn about the attacks in New York and Washington, they mount an attempt to retake the plane. In response, hijackers deliberately crash the plane into a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, killing all 40 passengers and crew aboard.
When we were 2 miles from the house, the North Tower went down.
• 10:28 am – The World Trade Center’s North Tower collapses, 102 minutes after being struck by Flight 11.
I could barely drive. But had to. I had to get home, try to reach Bingley again. We were crazy with worry.
And just as the air was clearing it happened again as the North Tower fell. Shock and numbness doesn’t begin to describe how we were or whay we felt. We assumed that thousands were dead, and we saw thousands more shuffling about in the street, ash covered and heading ever north and east like so many souls on Judgement Day.
There seemed little point in leaving just then: where would we go? So we waited. Eventually the air cleared and we could see that the ferries were loading people for the trip back to the Highlands, so I grabbed a pack of coffee filters and handed them out to people to use as a mask (my only useful act of the day. Well, that and the many bottles of wine I opened that night at home).
I can’t say I’ve ever been sadder than on that ride home, retracing our happy path of the morning, only this time the brilliant blue sky was marred by an enormous black cloud that headed up and south east out over the harbor.
At last, Bingley called from the ferry. He was safe, and on his way to the New Jersey side.
FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND PEOPLE, including my precious baby brother, were evacuated on September 11, 2001, by regular folks in anything that floated, who went TO Manhattan, instead of away from it.
The entire evacuation effort “Just Happened,” because every-day people decided this evacuation would happen. And it did.
September 11, 2001. God bless the ferrymen and water folks that day.
In the months that followed, Kcruella said the saddest reminders were the hundreds of cars, abandoned and lonely in train and bus station parking lots. No one ever came back from work to claim them.
Bingley had to get his office up and running somewhere. Find some way to recover. He also went to multiple funerals, if I remember correctly.
The emotions are as vividly fresh to me on September 11, 2018 as 17 years ago. I choke up trying to describe the terror of not knowing where Bingley was, watching the carnage unfold, and thinking of all those people who just went to work that day. They should have come home.
Time has effected no mitigation of my anger, allowed no PC re-allotment of blame, nor nurtured any flicker of forgiveness for the inhuman monsters and ideology that conceived, executed and cravenly attempts to justify wanton, cowardly slaughter. I hate them with every fibre of my being: no less today, than on September 11, 2001. It is visceral and unyielding.
And Bingley’s beautiful, cherished friends?
With regard to Sylvia, John and Dylan…
all that was ever recovered were a few of John’s teeth.
Feature photo credit: US Courts.Gov